Table of Contents
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Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned
from Joseph Campbell: The
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:
Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods
THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Articles and Excerpts:
Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
EnlightenmentYou're Not A Wave
Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
What Anatman means
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
Cutting edge realization
The Myth of the Wanderer
Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss
What the Vows Really Mean
Manifesting from the Subtle Realms
The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse
The est Training and Personal Intention
Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven
his Preface to Queer Spirits,
Don’t we lead mythical lives? Even the most unassuming of us can tell amazing stories of victory against overwhelming odds, self-respect forged out of mind-boggling hate, invention and wit mothered by inescapable necessity. When Joseph Campbell spoke of the hero’s journey he should have used us as his example—although he never did. We’re the ones who arrive at wholeness after an oblique journey to the margins of the social order and back again, who suffer inordinate wounds and are healed, who win the gift of “insider-outsider” vision and can therefore speak with authority to men and women alike.
Some of you may know that I only partly tongue in cheek fancy myself “Joseph Campbell’s apostle to the gay community.” It isn’t so much Joe Campbell in particular that I want to champion, though he was, in fact, a wonderful fellow, but the stance of understanding religion and ultimate truth from a perspective over and above. I associate all this way of thinking with Campbell because he was my personal entry into it.
Because I had a read his book, I signed up as a work volunteer for a seminar he was giving the first year I moved to San Francisco; I ended up on the crew that worked his appearances in the Bay Area for the rest of the decade, and so was one of his “official followers” — something he wouldn’t have liked—he didn’t want to seem to be a guru—but he did like having people gush over how wonderful his ideas were, especially young men, like the son he did not have. His wife was a dancer and they chose not to have children for professional reasons. He taught at a girls’ school, Sarah Lawrence College so didn’t have male students. I was one of those bright-eyed young men who gushed. I maintained a friendly correspondence with him for over ten years.
The “New Myth”
was interested in what he
called “the new myth.” That
is, now that humankind has developed a global culture with historical
cultural perspective, and can see that there are different religions
world that are all terribly different, but are also just different
manifestations of the same impulse in consciousness, how do we
Could a “new myth” develop that
includes and explains them
all? Could there be a new world savior, like a Jesus or Buddha, who
them all? Probably not. There are lots of messiahs these days and
them very seriously.
But maybe the concept itself of how all the religions can be true at the same time even though they conflict mightily might itself be a higher meta-myth that makes overarching sense of religion even though the actual stories, myths and doctrines don’t make sense anymore in any literal way. We need a model which can explain all the behavior we observe, a theory that includes all the points on the curve.
captured this new perspective as nothing else could. This is the icon of the New Myth.
— — —
Naturals for this perspective
I think gay people are naturals for this higher perspective on religion, as we are for a higher perspective on everything. Indeed, that’s a major characteristic of so-called gay consciousness—seeing through the gay window.
This higher perspective that Campbell alluded to—and that I think is what satisfies his question about the new myth—has shown up in modern culture in the expression “Spiritual, not religious.” This expression, of course, can just mean that one doesn’t have any interest in religion and is sort of lazy about such issues, but doesn’t think of oneself as a bad person therefore. But it also tends to suggest that one feels a deeper moral sense and higher spiritual sense than the religion of “believers.’
We are, literally, “making up our own religions.” As we should!
Nature of Myth
Here’s Campbell’s dense, but brilliant
explanation of religion.
And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious (as indeed are all human thoughts and acts) but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself. [We understand now in 2014, sixty-five years after this book was written, that the brain is evolving and changing. And understanding that is itself one of the “spiritual principles.”]
formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible
structures of the world—all things and beings—are the effects of a
ubiquitous power out of which they rise, which supports and fills them
during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must
ultimately dissolve. This is the power known to science as energy, to
the Melanesians as mana, to
the Sioux Indians as wakonda,
the Hindus as Shakti, and the
Christians as the power of God. Its manifestations in the psyche is
termed, by the psychoanalysts, libido.
And its manifestation in the cosmos is the structure and flux of the
The apprehension of the source of this undifferentiated yet everywhere particularized substratum of being is rendered frustrate by the very organs though which the apprehension must be accomplished. The forms of sensibility and the categories of human thought so confine the mind that it is normally impossible not only to see, but even to conceive, beyond the colorful, fluid, infinitely various and bewildering phenomenal spectacle.
function of ritual and myth is to make possible, and then to
facilitate, the jump [beyond the senses and the categories of human
Forms and conceptions that the mind and its senses can comprehend are presented and arranged in such a way as to suggest a truth or openness beyond. And then, the conditions for meditation having been provided, the individual is left alone. Myth is but the penultimate; the ultimate is openness—that void, or being, beyond the categories—into which the mind must plunge alone and be dissolved. Therefore, God and the gods are only convenient means—themselves of the nature of the world of names and forms, though eloquent of, and ultimately conducive to, the ineffable. They are mere symbols to move and awaken the mind, and call it past themselves. (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 221)
Evolution of Myth
At the end of Hero, Campbell says about the evolution of myth:
“Truth is one,” we read in the Vedas; “the sages call it by many names.” A single song is being inflected through all the colorations of the human choir. General propaganda for one or another of the local solutions, therefore, is superfluous—or much rather, a menace. The way to become human is to learn to recognize the lineaments of God in all of the wonderful modulations of the face of man.
With this we come to the final hint of what the specific orientation of the modern hero-task must be, and discover the real cause for the disintegration of all of our inherited religious formulae.
center of gravity, that is to say, of the realm of mystery and
danger has definitely shifted.
the primitive hunting
those remotest human millenniums when the
sabertooth tiger, the mammoth, and the lesser presences of the
animal kingdom were the primary manifestations of what was
alien—the source at once of danger, and of sustenance—the great human
problem was to become linked psychologically to the task of sharing the
wilderness with these beings. An unconscious identification took place,
and this was finally rendered conscious in the half-human, half-animal,
figures of the mythological totem-ancestors. The animals became the
tutors of humanity. Through acts of literal imitation—such as today
appear only on the children’s playground (or in the madhouse)— an
effective annihilation of the human ego was accomplished and society
achieved a cohesive organization.
the tribes supporting themselves on plant-food
became cathected to the plant; the life-rituals of planting
and reaping were identified with those
of human procreation, birth, and progress to maturity. Both the
plant and the animal worlds, however, were in the end brought
under social control.
Whereupon the great field of instructive wonder shifted—to the skies—and mankind enacted the great pantomime of the sacred moon-king, the sacred sun-king, the hieratic, planetary state, and the symbolic festivals of the world-regulating spheres.
of these mysteries have lost their force; their symbols no longer
interest our psyche. The notion of a cosmic law, which all
existence serves and to which man himself must bend, has long since
passed through the preliminary mystical stages represented in the old
astrology, and is now simply accepted in mechanical terms as a matter
The descent of the Occidental sciences from the heavens to the earth (from seventeenth-century astronomy to nineteenth-century biology), and their concentration today, at last, on man himself (in twentieth-century anthropology and psychology), mark the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder. Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery. (Hero, p. 336-7)
Since Campbell wrote those words in 1948 or so, the use of the word “man” has, of course, changed—in great part because of the women’s movement and sexual liberation, and the new sciences he wrote of have come to include twenty-first-century ecology, brain science, and consciousness studies and, of course, computer science and A.I.—all of which seem even more about the nature of humankind and of consciousness beyond humankind.
We’re only just coming to understand what all this stuff means, but certainly one way of reconciling all contradictory religions is by understanding them all as clues about human consciousness. This makes sense to us today. God and the gods are metaphors for our own deepest identities. And we have to relate to “God” in a different way.
I think Harry Hay’s idea that
rather than subject-object, resonates with exactly this concept of God.
is not an other, but a reflection of deepest/highest Self. And so the
relate to God is as self to self, subject to Subject. The way to relate
world is to see it as a reflection and outflowering of one’s own
— — —
I don’t know that Campbell had any direct influence on Harry Hay, but the comparative religions approach most definitely did. According to the story in Stuart Timmon’s book, The Trouble with Harry Hay, one of Harry’s first encounters with the word homosexual and the idea of love of a like comrade, not an oppositely sexed wife, was with Edward Carpenter’s The Intermediate Sex. So one of his earliest perceptions of homosexuality was as a phenomenon of anthropology and religious history.
Carpenter, like Campbell would a century later, viewed religion from over and above and observed that “Uranians” had played a pivotal role in the development of religion and continued to possess a kind of special insight.
The very idea of “Uranians” manifests this. In the way that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, so homosexuals —the 19th C sexologists proposed— are from Uranus. Ignoring the blatant pun, we can understand that Uranus was the most recently discovered planet; its discovery paralleled the discovery of homosexuality as a category of human being.
— — —
I’d say, following Carpenter, that people we’d call homosexual or gay or queer are always on the cutting edge of the evolution of consciousness. We have so many distinctions now because we’ve had time to think about the richness and variety of this form of non-heterosexual, non-breeding consciousness. We’re part of the prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder that Campbell correlated with the New Myth.
want to observe that there is another kind of bifurcation
within the world of gay religion and gay spirituality. For some people,
spirituality means getting gay people to go back to Church and become
within the religions of their upbringing. (e.g., Coming Out, Coming Home: Making Room for Gay Spirituality in
Kenneth A. Burr).
This forces the mainstream churches to cope with gay parishioners. Just making people think about sexual orientation forces them to gain a higher perspective on consciousness. It forces then to think about the errors in what they always believed as “revealed truth.” It awakens them to the perspective of the “new myth.”
MCC and the various gay affinity groups within the established churches represent this trend. The Radical Faeries, gay Wiccans, The Body Electric represent the other side of the bifurcation, rejecting traditional religious myths altogether and conjuring up our own gods and traditions.
“spiritual” approach does not
have to reject conventional religion, though it does change how you
the truth value. But on either side, the truth value has to be
people within MCC, for instance, for all they might seem to be
and scripture-based, still have to take the Bible with a grain of salt.
necessarily transcend traditional belief.
You don’t have to abandon your religion, but you do have to understand it differently, more as an art form, like the opera or the ballet, that conveys beauty and meaningfulness, but not literal truth. As 21st century human beings, we’re simply beyond that.
I would say that in the long run the most important contribution of the gay rights movement is going to turn out to be the transformation of religion.
Why “Gay” Spirituality?
The word “spirituality” has
meaning. If you use it to mean the basic awareness of an interior life
and, perhaps, concern for the meaning of existence, then, of course,
all human beings are “spiritual” and there’s only human spirituality.
But “Spirituality” also refers
themes, styles and imagery of various religious practices.
In Catholic Church
history, they speak of “Ignatian Spirituality”—that of the Jesuit
Order, based on a military model, because St. Ignatius Loyola had been
a soldier and organized his religious order like a regiment.
spirituality,” on the other hand, founded by St Francis of Assisi who
loved animals and being out in the woods, is about simplicity and
God in nature.
In this sense, a “gay
spirituality” — or Lesbian or Bi
or Trans, etc. — refers to cultivating themes, images and ideas that
explain gay experience in the larger spiritual nature of human
consciousness. We naturally ask ourself
what it means for us that we’re gay. Our mythological system, our
religion, needs to offer answers—or what good is it as a religion? A
gay spirituality then answers: “Why did God make me gay?”
Men’s and Women’s Spiritualities
Mainstream men (that is, straight men) are generally concerned about being a good father and provider, an authority figure, a successful competitor, a defender of the homeland. Men’s images of the divine are of God the Father, paterfamilias, rule-giver and victor. Men’s God manifests in authority and institution.
Women experience in their body the monthly cycles of nature; they are concerned about being a good mother, a home builder, a self-sacrificing benefactor, a life-giver. Her images of the divine include Virgin-Mothers full of grace, and, maybe, moon goddesses, certainly the fecundity of the natural world. Women’s God manifests in nature.
course, the patterns of
masculinity and femininity are changing, in part, because of feminism
and gay liberation and, in part, because of the rise in awareness of
these issues as psychological motivators; becoming aware of them
These are gross generalizations. But men have traditionally been well-ordered, hierarchical, powerful (violent) and non-emotional. Women have been care-giving, egalitarian, submissive and affective. Traditionally, men’s and women’s spiritualities have encouraged and distinguished these traits as gender-specific, making them self-fulfilling prophecies and dividing lines between the sexes. And polarity becomes duality.
— — —
into the dualistic vision
of the world is the notion that virtually everything links by
heterosexual connection—opposites attract. Electrical connections plug
“male” plugs into “female” sockets. Pipes have male and female joints
and connectors. According to this mechanical model, homosexuality
doesn’t work because the “plumbing” doesn’t fit.
Curiously, the very image that is used to prove “opposites attract” —the way magnets seem to pull together north pole to south pole and south pole to north pole and repel when pushed pole to pole—actually demonstrates just the opposite. Scientific understanding of magnetism reveals that what’s really happening is the charged fields in the atoms of the magnets are lining up.
Magnetism is really like
aligning with like: north pointing atoms line up with other north
Rather than heterosexual coitus, the sexual position demonstrated by magnetism is more like a “daisy-chain” of men all lined up performing the same stimulation to another that someone else is performing on them.
Queer “Gay Spiritualities”
A gay spirituality, for men, could focus on living in the present moment, honoring incarnation in the flesh, reveling in uniqueness, valuing adventure and ecstasy, finding divinity in sexual consciousness (as an end in itself), valorizing play and artistic creativity, seeking harmony and oneness beyond the polarities.
For lesbians, such a spirituality could focus on competence, honesty, emotional openness, solidarity with the oppressed and—sharing with women’s spiritualities in general—awareness of natural cycles, interest in lunar imagery and camaraderie with other women.
trans* people, it could focus on transformation and the power of change
and self-determination. And, of course, sacred androgyny: Two Spirits,
with both a male soul and a female soul.
— — —
What might make a spirituality “gay” is the conviction that the teachings of religion have to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt because, certainly, they are wrong about the blanket condemnation of homosexuality. And also the focus on gay content: praying for a lover, asking God to make you feel more attractive, experiencing orgasm as a kind of prayer of union with the divine or emphasizing the homosexual imagery in the traditions.
A gay or lesbian Christian might consider the daring concept that Jesus was gay. A Sufi might practice spinning while meditating on the seemingly homosexual relationship between Jalaluddin Rumi, founder of the “dervish” order, and his teacher Shams. A Jew might find affirmation of samesex feelings in the Biblical stories of Ruth and Naomi or of David and Jonathan who loved each other with a love surpassing that of women.
forms, of course, have arisen with the development of gay and lesbian
culture that are more specifically “gay spirituality.” The Body
Electric, created by past-Jesuit Joseph Kramer, teaches how to enhance
and transform sexual arousal into heightened consciousness and perhaps
an experience of, literally, seeing God.
The Radical Faeries, called into being by gay liberation pioneer Harry Hay, reclaim pagan and Wiccan holidays, harking back to pre-Christian and nature religions that honored homosexuals as shamans and oracles, but with distinctly modern genderfuck and outrageous drag and costume to celebrate liberated gay consciousness.
Spirituality is awareness of the myths and metaphors, symbols and stories that we tell ourselves as we mull over our self-awareness. Spirituality refers to how we explain ourselves to ourselves. As the evolving “new religion,” it should encourage us to live well and behave harmoniously with others in ways that foster continued evolution in consciousness so that we increase the happiness of all people and—figuratively and literally—create heaven on earth.
That’s what evolution should be bringing us to. And now that we human beings have become conscious of evolution, we have the power and responsibility to take charge and guide its direction toward that “heaven.”
The aim of so-called “gay spirituality,” then, is to derive a sense of the meaning of life, a motive for good behavior and an explanation for our place in the universe that flows directly from and is consistent with our homosexual experience.
A Favorite God
Mahayana Buddhist tradition offers an appealing and instructive myth that I think helps inform gay consciousness. Though, of course, two thousand years ago when the Indian sages came up with this story of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, they were not thinking about modern homosexuality.
This myth was part of a reform
Buddhism, by then nearly five hundred years old, from an almost
exclusively monastic practice of meditation for a few to a popular
religion for all that encouraged compassion
for other beings. Avalokiteshvara, then, was a character of
myth, not history. His world saving acts are a metaphor about
consciousness; he lives in the timeless eternity of myth
(like Hamlet or King Arthur). He is portrayed as a beautiful and
beloved young Indian man, often shown bare chested, sometimes wearing
This story is not about a gay god, but it does offer a lovely image for gay people to include in their pantheon because it contains an insight both about transcending gender roles and about experiencing heaven now.
When I first discovered this
story in The Hero with a Thousand
the idea that he was portrayed as beautiful and lovable resonated with
my gay experience. I saw my fellow gay men as beautiful and lovable.
That seemed one of the contributions we made to the world.
The story goes that Avalokiteshvara had worked through lifetime after lifetime as a monk to achieve nirvana (that is, the end of karmically-driven rebirth). As he was entering his last meditation from which he would transition into nirvana, he heard a groan go up all around him. He came out of his trance and asked: “What is this groan?”
All nature spoke up to answer: “O Avalokiteshvara, life is hard and full of suffering; your beauty and loveliness have given us a reason to want to live. We are happy for you that you are about to achieve your goal of lifetimes beyond number, but we are sad to see you go. It is for ourselves that we groan.”
So in a burst of generosity and compassion, the lovable young saint exclaimed: “Well, then, I won’t go. I will remain behind in the cycles of reincarnation until all sentient beings have entered nirvana. Indeed, since it is better that one suffer than that all suffer, I vow to take on myself the suffering of all beings. Let them go on to nirvana and let me stay behind to live their karmic destinies in their place.”
— — —
An image of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, stylized to look like a modern gay man, appears on the cover of my book, Gay Perspective.
orthodox readings of the myth,
Avalokiteshvara has remained behind to help ease suffering as this or
that particular religious leader—the Dalai Lama of Tibet for one. But
in other, less institutionally self-serving, interpretations of the
story, at that moment all sentient beings did enter nirvana. And
Avalokiteshvara remained behind to live their incarnations for them.
The name means “The Lord Who Looks Down in Pity,” but it also means “The Lord Who is Seen Within.”
For each and every one of us is Avalokiteshvara living out his vow. We are not separate individuals, we are really that One Being. Hence, compassion for others isn’t just about being nice; it’s about recognizing the reality that that other person really is you. The neighbor Jesus says to love as yourself is yourself.
notion of the deep oneness of
all of us is also a central tenet of mystical Christianity. It’s the
basis of Jesus’s description of the Last Judgment when he concludes the
criterion for salvation is not whether you obeyed the Law but whether
you treated other people with compassion and awareness of our common
unity with the mystical Christ. “Behold, what you do to the least of
these, that you do to me,” Jesus said. In Catholic doctrine, this is
called the Mystical Body of Christ.
It is said there are Three Wonders of the Bodhisattva. The first is that he is androgynous, simultaneously both male and female, transcending the polarity of gender. That’s why he is such a sweet and lovable fellow: he blends the best of masculinity and the best of femininity.
The second wonder is that he
there is no difference between nirvana and the life of suffering and
rebirth in time, no difference between eternity and temporality, no
difference between heaven and earth. This is why he could renounce his
own nirvana and embrace all human experience. This life is nirvana;
this is heaven on earth.
And the third wonder is that the first two wonders are the same!
That’s why this is such a nice myth for gay people to entertain. It says we’re really all One, all reflections of one another, that the distinction between male and female is illusory and needs to be transcended and that transcending gender is part and parcel with experiencing heaven now.
— — —
Buddhists came to
China with their androgynous god, he was perceived by the Chinese (who
did not have a traditon of bisexual gods) as a woman. So in Chinese and
Japanese Buddhism, the bodhisattva is know as Kuan Yin, and in Japan as
Kwannon, the Goddess of Compassion.
Christian missionaries arrived, they thought these statues were of the
Blessed Virgin Mary. So Avalokiteshvara has mythically become the
Mother of God, as well.
Avalokiteshvara is portrayed as the androgynous young being, beloved by everybody who knows him. That is very much like the ideal so many gay people find themselves looking for as a lover (and as a sense of themselves). And in the way that we gay people find the world a reflection of ourselves, so this myth says it really is. When we love another man or another woman, seeing their beauty and consciousness as like ours in homosexual attraction, that being we’re loving is the being that is ourself. No duality, no polarization.
Mahayana Buddhists are urged to repeat the Bodhisattva’s Vows daily to remind themselves of their deepest identity and to set the style for their experience of the day. In slightly altered, modernized language, the formula goes:
However countless the sentient beings are,
I vow to save them.
However inexhaustible the resistance to experience,
I vow to relinquish it.
However many the doors of incarnation,
I vow to enter them all.
However incomparable the highest perspective,
I vow to attain it.
Notice the double entendre in
“however.” As an adverb modifying an adjective of quantity, it’s about
unlimited number. But put the “the” in front of the adjective and
“however” modifies the subject. Now it’s about unconditional quality.
“However the countless beings are” means to be without judgment of
them. A bodhisattva vows to save—to become—everybody, however they are.
• Joy in the joy of others and
These aren’t necessarily “gay virtues,” but maybe they should be. Understanding them thus certainly transforms how you think about homosexuality.
It is that Buddhist virtue “Joy in the joy of others” that, I would joke, founded the Sexual Revolution and should characterize gay sexual culture. It’s one of the reasons why I still like the word “gay,” because it comes from the word JOY.
Earlier, I said “the new myth” calls for a model of afterlife that includes Heaven & Hell, reincarnation, simple extinction, perhaps also reabsorption back into nature. This story of Avalokiteshvara suggests such an all-encompassing myth. We’re all One Being. From the Moon, looking back, all the distinctions disappear: we’re all organs of Earth. In modern scientific, ecological jargon, we’re all parts of Gaia, and the planet itself is a living being that we relate to as cells in our liver or neurons in our brain relate to us.
What we if “give off vibes” and
“receive vibes”? Like TV
broadcasts in the psychic ether. What we really are, indeed, is the
vibes moving through us, generating our experience.
This is mythologized as “auras.”
— — —
The Prologue to
by Herman Hesse
“Each [person’s life] represents a unique and valuable experiment on the part of nature. [For] every[one] is more than just [them]self; [each] also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again.
the reincarnation myth contributes is that the lives
of those before us have contributed to the patterns that are still
reverberating through our lives, and in turn, our lives will
reverberate through the lives of those after us. We are all
reincarnations of ALL the beings who’ve ever lived. We resonate with
the patterns of their lives.
& Hell tells us about how to hold an attitude toward life and
experience. We create our “reward” or “punishment” by who we are. And
we create “Heaven” by raising our consciousness. Maybe, especially, at
the moment of death when it’s possible to have the Tunnel of Light
experience. But thoughout our lives we can experience “being in heaven
now,” by learning and working to love our lives as they are.
Joseph Campbell thought that the afterlife myths—and especially the Books of the Dead, like the Tibetan Bardo Todol—were “maps of consciousness.”
From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: Centering (translated by Paul Reps)
This consciousness is the spirit of
guidance in each one. Be this one.
rose blooms and creates beauty;
it lives its simple life and performs its simple, vegetative duties.
Then fades and is reincorporated back into the rosebush. We are like
the rose; we live and die, we come and go. The rosebush lives on
beyond. The rosebush is Avalokiteshvara, the Mystical Body of Christ,
Gaia, Planet Earth, the World-Wide-Web, The
Matrix. The point of the afterlife myths is to wake up now while we’re
alive—realize you ARE the rosebush, not the rose. “You’re not a wave,
Into the Bardo
fascinating and provocative, if unorthodox, implication for
homosexuality in the Tibetan mythology of reincarnation.
If a particular soul happens to be too close, too attentive and too personally involved when a sperm and ovum unite, that soul will be pulled into incarnation as the offspring of that sexual union. That is how souls get reincarnated—at least in popular imagination.
A homosexual soul, however, floating in the bardo state, could watch lots of acts of homosexual intercourse without ever being drawn into incarnation. In fact, it seems like it would never get pulled into incarnation at all. Homosexual souls must come back only because they choose to, perhaps because they become bored and shift their consciousness to compassion for all the suffering they observe—and all the joy they can feel in others’ joys.
Taking this mythology with that all important grain of salt, of course, doesn’t this imply that gay people come back into reincarnation intentionally (like we have children, out of choice), not accidentally? We come back out of compassion—as bodhisattvas.
is just a story, of course.
But it is one all us gay men and lesbians can take to heart. It’s about
the blending of genders that seems so natural to us and about the
harmony and self-reflexiveness in nature that is so resonant of our
experience of sexual attraction.
The Queer Twist in Nature
A model of homosexuality also needs to incorporate the “twist” that captures our reversal of the expected pattern. It is, after all, the “twist”—the fact that you have to discover something new about yourself, “come out,” and transform how you see the world—that dominates gay experience. Our homosexuality is a 180º shift from what we would have expected.
The wedding band is a familiar
symbol for the link between two people in sexual, spiritual and karmic
relationship. The band represents how two people become one, closing
the circle, as it were. Though they are always separated by the body of
the ring itself, the inside and the outside of the ring come together
in the unity of the closed band.
Beginning with the image of the circle or band, let’s introduce a twist with interesting properties that parallel aspects of gay consciousness.
In the topographical figure called a Möbius Strip, we can find an icon for things connecting “homosexually.” And it even does something “queer.”
This figure is formed by taking
a thin strip of paper (like adding machine tape) and gluing the ends
together to form a circular band, but with a twist: left and right,
inside and outside are switched. This creates a most peculiar
construction. Forming the circular band transforms it from a rectangle
to a cylinder, from two dimensions to three. But turning it back on it
self with the twist moves that simple object into another kind of
dimensionality altogether; it has a kind of queer infinity. It even
looks like the infinity symbol. The surface
area of the strip now contains both sides on the same side. If you run
your finger over the surface of a möbius or along the edge and keep
moving it, your finger goes inside and outside but you never switch
sides; you pass over inside, outside, left and right. The opposite
poles have become each other.
A Möbius Strip is an unbounded surface with only one side and one edge: no inside, no outside, no duality.
This is just a model, of course, an affectation. It doesn’t prove anything. But like all mythological metaphors, it offers a way of thinking about and giving meaning to experience. It’s a metaphor for the queer twist our gay identity gives to the world. It provides a rich, multi-layered focus for meditation. Interestingly, this twisted figure-eight pattern is the figure your folded legs form in the half-lotus meditation posture. When you sit in meditation, you’re sitting in a Möbius twist—with your sexual center at the place of the twist.
We discover in the metaphor that this twist is part of reality just as much as the male-female connections of plumbing, but—in typically gay fashion—more subtle. Homosexual personality blends masculine and feminine, bringing the polarities together and transcending them, putting both sides of human consciousness on the same side. The Möbius flip is connection by reflection, like the flip in a mirror image. Our beloved reflects our own gender, not a complementary opposite. Gay consciousness, like the Möbius twist, connects by reflection.
One of the most famous “twists” in the discoveries of modern science is the DNA molecule. The double-helix of DNA replicates by untwisting and separating its two strands, then each strand links with free available amino acids to form an exact duplicate of itself, creating a new double helix. While the linking between the bases along the helical strands, adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine (A,T,C,G), is key-in-lock, forming AT, CG, TA or GC pairs, the overall resulting strands are exact duplicates of the original—mirror images.
DNA strands are not
complementary opposites; there isn’t a male strand and a female strand
or even a right strand and a left strand. The DNA molecule reproduces
by reflection, by forming a mirror image of itself. DNA replicates
Joseph Campbell calls the spirituality of the Bodhisattva myth:
“The Way of Joyful Participation in the Sorrows of the World.”
You know, Campbell’s suggestion for dealing with the suffering of the world was to say “It’s great, just the way it is.” And his great advice was “Follow Your Bliss.”
“Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you never knew there were going to be doors.”
(Don’t you think all gay men need God to be their Auntie Mame!)
Bliss is a technical term in Buddhism. It does not mean mere happiness or satisfaction. Rather it means fulfillment of who we really are, realization of buddhahood, accomplishment of the goals that drive us to find meaning in life. To follow our bliss is to disregard all the rules that tell us how we are supposed to behave and to seek our own path.
To follow our bliss is to live in such a way that we can always love our experience.
A movie, from The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell says: “It’s great, just the way it is.”
click here for .mov file
here for .mp4
Toby’s Books on Gay Spirituality:
Gay Spirituality: Gay Identity and the Transformation of Human Consciousness
Gay Perspective: Things our [homo]sexuality tells us about the nature of God and the Universe
Finding Your Own True Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The yth of the Great Secret III
for links to amazon, click here
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness.
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They
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